Call it what you like: trail, all mountain or enduro, these designations have spawned a new breed of open-face, cross-country-style helmets featuring more coverage, goggle and helmet camera compatibility, innovative safety technologies, and of course an aesthetic all their own. One of the best-looking and most popular lids of this variety is Troy Lee Designs' A1. A few years later, the Troy Lee Designs A2 is upon us.
The Evolution of the A1
From 10 feet away, one might mistake the A2 for its predecessor, while a closer look reveals that this is a wholly evolved version–one that maintains much of the same form, but taken as a whole is very different. Over the last few years, MIPS technology took a foothold in the bike helmet world, and later models of the A1 were offered with an optional MIPS liner. However, from 2017 onward TLD says all of its open-face helmets will utilize this safety feature.
For those not familiar with MIPS, it's basically a thin, yellow, plastic sheet held in place by small rubber grommets, sitting between the EPS shell and the rider's head. The MIPS liner is designed to redirect impact energy and provide more protection by allowing the helmet to slide relative to the head during an angled impact, theoretically reducing rotational forces believed to be a factor in causing concussions.
Does a thin layer of plastic mounted by short, thick rubber bands shift the helmet differently on impact from what one's sweaty hair might do in the same scenario? A team of Swedish engineers believe so.
Speaking of taking it to the dome, the A2 incorporates a dual-density foam liner to absorb impacts at a variety of speeds. If you take a spill on a tricky uphill section you're obviously moving slower than when you're descending, so the softer density foam is in place to absorb those lower velocity impacts.
Should you brush off that spill and finish the climb, only to tomahawk yourself into a boulder field (after roaring "STRAVA BITCHES!") on the descent, the softer foam compresses and then disperses the higher-velocity energy into the higher-density foam. Although not unique to TLD, this is said to be a vast improvement in energy absorption from the days of putting one's head inside a contoured Styrofoam cooler.
Troy Lee Designs' roots are in racing of all varieties, and the eye-catching A2 toes the company line in regard to aesthetics. Along with the Richard Petty-esque colorway of my test sample, the raised EPS foam splines not only give the A2 racier lines, they're claimed to improve impact absorption by slightly extending the first line of defense between your hard drive and the harder ground.
Like Trent, Vince Vaughn's character in Swingers said, "Everybody steals from everybody, that’s Hollywood." Over the years a lot of TLD gear appears to have been inspired by legendary hot rod painter Von Dutch, (not the one Britney Spears made famous for a minute via trucker hat). The Dutch-like pinstripes certainly enhance the A2's sleek, eye-catching silhouette.
Fit and Performance
I've had an A1 for a couple of years, and after wearing it back-to-back with the A2, two aspects struck me right away: fit and ventilation. One of the reasons I didn't regularly wear the A1 was because it wasn't as breathable and was heavier than similar offerings in my helmet stash. The A2’s improved ventilation was obvious right off the bat.
Also new to the Troy Lee Designs A2 is a fixed strap splitter, a concept Specialized and Bontrager have been utilizing for a few years. I'm a fan of this style of strap management. It's one less adjustment to fiddle with and can't be unintentionally jiggered out of alignment.
The A2, like the A1, is extremely comfortable. The pillowy padding inside makes for one of the softest helmet liners in the game, and it effectively wicks moisture but also drys quickly. The A2 has the thickest forehead padding of any cross-country helmet I've worn, and it does absorb a lot of sweat.
Although the A2 is remarkably comfortable, the prior generation A1 fit me better. Both helmets are size M/L, but the A2 feels as though there is a lot more open space on the sides and at the rear of the helmet. Riders on the fence between helmet sizes might want to try on the A2 in person before ordering one online. For those keeping score, the size M/L A2 weighs 385 grams.
Throughout a year, there might be a few backcountry riding trips where it makes sense to run goggles on my cross-country helmet. I like how the A2's visor slides up nicely out of my line of sight, but unlike some enduro-oriented helmets there's no real estate for stashing goggles under the visor. The horizontal ridge at the back of the helmet (where blue meets orange) provides a nice sticking point for a goggle strap, and both Oakley's Airbrake moto and Smith's Squad mountain bike goggles fit perfectly when worn with the A2. I primarily ride in clear glasses, and it's been a challenge to find a secure place to stow those as well.
The Troy Lee Designs A2 helmet has taken the comfort-and-style baton handed down from the A1, and then ramped up the protection and safety features for a remarkable open-face lid. Riders keen on the original will be happy to know all versions of the A1 will now feature MIPS and a lower price tag at $139.
The A2 will go for $175, with a team replica going for $185. You should always try a helmet on for fit before pulling the trigger, but whether you're a fannypackin' goggler or just a regular ol' rider looking for a super-stylish lid with the latest protection features, the A2 is unlikely to disappoint.
More colors and specs at troyleedesigns.com.